Just in time for the holidays!
Kentucky’s brand new Tea Party governor just broke a campaign promise and REVERSED a positive move by his Democratic predecessor that had restored voting rights to some 140,000 Kentuckians.
Once again, Kentucky will be one of the very few states where people with felony convictions remain disenfranchised after completing their sentences. As ThinkProgress points out, this means that one in five African Americans in the state will be disenfranchised. Studies show that ex-felon disenfranchisement leads to higher rates of recidivism.
Oh, and Bevin also lowered the minimum wage.
ThinkProgress has more:
In another executive order this week, Bevin reversed former Gov. Beshear’s move to raise the state’s minimum wage for government workers and contractors to $10.10 an hour, bringing it back down to $7.25 an hour. About 800 state workers who have already gotten raises will be able to keep them, but new hires will now have to start at the lower pay rate. In the order, Bevin hinted that he would prefer the state have no minimum wage at all: “Wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government,” he said.
Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and architect of anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures copied across the country, called same-day voter registration a “travesty” on a recent radio program, portraying his restrictive voting laws as necessary to prevent various mythical voter fraud schemes.
On his weekly radio program on Kansas City’s KCMO on October 25, Kobach took a call from a listener who presented a somewhat convoluted scheme involving performing facial recognition scanning on everyone who votes and going to the houses of people who cast ballots by mail in order to scan their faces, all in the name of preventing voter fraud.
When Kobach told the caller that this plan might be a little too costly and complicated to really work, the caller said that desperate times call for desperate measures, citing debunked voter fraud conspiracy theories, including a false story about Woods County, Ohio, and a version of the perennial “people bused in from a big city to vote fraudulently” story, this time one that appears to have originated on the conspiracy theory website Infowars.
“Well, I think that in Woods County, Ohio, 108 percent of the registered voters cast ballots for Obama,” the caller insisted, “and I think that in Wisconsin, busloads of people from Chicago were bused to polls where under state law you could register to vote on Election Day [inaudible] and not even have an ID.”
This, Kobach seemed to think, was a reasonable complaint, and told the caller that his restrictive voting policies have eliminated such problems in Kansas. “Right,” Kobach said, “which is why — proof of citizenship stops that, because you can’t have same-day registration, which is a travesty, I think same-day registration is a huge problem, and proof of citizenship prevents you from registering fictitious identities or registering under someone else’s name. So I think we, you can’t do those things in Kansas anymore.”
Kobach is currently attempting to purge 37,000 people from Kansas’ voter rolls for failing to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship when they registered to vote.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a leader of the GOP’s anti-immigrant and restrictive voting efforts, and has been trying out some of his most extreme ideas in his home state.
Kobach helped to push through one of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws, requiring people registering to vote to produce documentation of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Because of this law, 36,000 people in Kansas have started voter registrations but not completed them, and now Kobach is purging that list of people who haven’t followed up to complete their registrations.
The New York Times today looked at the list of incomplete registrations in Kansas and found that a disproportionate number of people it affected were young and that the vast majority were new voters:
An analysis by The New York Times of the list of voters showed that more than half of them were under 35, and 20 percent were from 18 to 20 years old. Fifty-seven percent of the people on the list did not declare a party; 23 percent were Democrats; and 18 percent were Republicans. The vast majority — 90 percent — had never voted before.
“This disproportionately hits 18- to 24-year-olds,” said Jamie Shew, a Democrat and the county clerk for Douglas County, Kan. “For a lot of them, they say, ‘I’m not going to worry about it.’ They’re busy and this is just one more thing to do.”
Under the law, which was passed in 2011, registrants must prove citizenship by producing a document from an approved list, which includes birth certificates, passports and naturalization records. They may bring the document to a county clerk’s office or email a photo of it. Under Mr. Kobach’s new rule, if they fail to do so, they would be removed from the voters list after 90 days. Residents can try to register again even after being removed from the list.
The 36,000 people on the list represent about 2 percent of the state’s 1.7 million registered voters. The Wichita Eagle reported in September that more than 16 percent of people who have tried to register to vote since the law went into effect in January 2013 have been placed on the list.
Earlier this week, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said that he didn’t want “stupid” people — i.e. people who won’t vote for him — to vote at all. Then a Republican state representative in Florida was caught suggesting that the party beat Rep. Corrine Brown by redrawing her African-American-majority district to include a large population of prisoners, who are not allowed to vote in Florida.
These are just two of the instances of Republican lawmakers admitting that their electoral strategy hinges not just on winning votes, but on suppressing the votes of people who they think will oppose them.
More than 30 years ago, an influential conservative leader explained why his movement shouldn’t “want everybody to vote.”
Paul Weyrich, an operative considered to be the “founding father of the conservative movement” because of his hand in founding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority, the Council for National Policy and other influential conservative groups, laid out the GOP’s voter suppression strategy in a 1980 speech in Dallas.
"I don't want everybody to vote,” he said. “Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers pushed through a package of voter suppression bills , including restrictions on early voting, something that many African American voters had taken advantage of the previous year.
Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly rejoiced in the news , saying that the early voting restrictions were “particularly important” because early voting had tended to help Democrats:
The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that “early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election.”
Franklin County, Ohio, GOP
In 2012, Republican officials in Ohio repeatedly attempted to cut back early voting hours , fighting off legal challenges from President Obama’s reelection campaign.
Doug Preisse, the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party (whose area includes the city of Columbus), put his party’s case frankly in an email to the Columbus Dispatch:
I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter turnout machine.
Before the 2012 presidential election, Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai declared that a new voter identification law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
In 2013, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott — who has since become the state’s governor – responded to the Justice Department’s accusation that recent redistricting had discriminated against minorities by explaining that the goal was just to discriminate against Democrats and “effects on minority voters” were merely “incidental”:
DOJ’s accusations of racial discrimination are baseless. In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats. It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.
People For the American Way Foundation today applauded Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s moves to restore the voting rights of more than 10,000 Virginia citizens with criminal records. By streamlining the restoration process and by removing barriers that prevented formerly incarcerated persons from being able to vote, run for office and serve on juries, McAullife has restored the rights of more Virginians than any other Governor in a four year term.
“This is unquestionably a step towards a more just and more democratic system,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way Foundation. “We’ve seen that continuing to prevent ex-offenders from registering to vote serves no purpose other than increasing stigma and contributing to the ongoing war on voting rights. Governor McAuliffe should be applauded for his efforts to include more citizens in our elections, and other elected officials should follow his lead.”
“Felon disenfranchisement is just one of the ways that opponents of voting rights have kept people of color away from the ballot box,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, PFAW Foundation’s Director of African American Religious Affairs. “Allowing formerly incarcerated persons to raise their voices as full citizens brings us a small step closer to a system that truly reflects a government of, by and for all the people. We are committed to continuing to work to make sure that all Virginians are ready and able to cast a vote that counts on Election Day.”
“Forward together, not one step back” were the chants heard in every space we entered while we marched for voters’ rights in Winston-Salem, North Carolina last month. On July 13, Young People For (YP4) community college consultant Lela Ali, African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) administrative assistant Jasmine Bowden, and I participated in the Mass Moral Monday march and rally hosted by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP to share our voices and energy in the fight against the 2013 North Carolina law (H.B. 589) that advocates have called “the worst voter suppression law in the country.”
Community and religious leaders performed sit-ins three years ago in the North Carolina State Senate resulting in arrests opposing the voter suppression law. One month later, the North Carolina NAACP and Rosanell Eaton filed a complaint in federal district court due to the bill’s violations under the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This history was uplifted by North Carolina NAACP State President Reverend William Barber, II – who is also an AAMLC member – at an ecumenical service at Union Baptist Church Sunday evening. He gave a great sermon titled “Necessary Interruption,” saying that allies and activists are being called to disrupt our nation in order to dismantle the systems of oppression that plague our country and leave behind countless black deaths with little consequences. He spoke on the need for Medicare expansion, policy changes like gun laws and criminal justice reforms, and economic empowerment for marginalized communities. The North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory lawsuit, which challenges the provisions of embedded in H.B. 589, is one of those necessary interruptions of justice.
With a fiery ending to our first night in Winston-Salem, we were excited for the full day of teach-ins that occurred the next morning. We were hosted by Goler Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church and engaged in various topics from ‘Racial Violence & Criminal (In)Justice’ to ‘Building Coalitions to Sustain a Social Justice Movement.’ Many of our conversations were focused around allyship, direct action, and legal support to dismantle systems of inequity in local communities. We had the opportunity during our lunch break to meet with members of the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network and ministerial leaders (AAMLC) from People For the American Way Foundation.
Later that day, we headed over to a rally and march only a few blocks away. At this time, the weather had reached its peak of 93 degrees, but this did not minimize the crowd of over 600 supporters. Music welcomed us and speakers from across the country greeted us with boisterous calls to action as they prepared us to take to the streets and rally for voters’ rights. We gathered our signs and water bottles and followed the crowd through the streets of downtown Winston-Salem as we chanted, “Forward together, not one step back!” and “What do you want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” We were escorted by local police while onlookers from the side streets clapped and cheered us on. Music continued to serenade us as young and old, black and white supporters joined hands to dance in solidarity for justice and equality around voting rights. It was a magical experience that could only be felt in that moment. We walked back to our cars after the march not concerned with the sweltering weather or the sweat staining our clothes and faces. We were excited to be a part of history and exercise our rights to march and protest.
The lawsuit appealing H.B. 589 may not be resolved right away, but activists and allies will continue to take to the internet and streets to uplift the voices of marginalized communities whose rights are violated by those who were elected to serve an array of constituents – black, brown, and white. We will continue to interrupt the notion that young people can’t participate in the electoral process. We will align ourselves with the interests of those who fight for equality and human rights. The fight for voters’ rights is a necessary interruption in the face of injustice.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Act, which passed then and has passed since with strong bipartisan support, provided necessary protections from discriminatory voting practices by Southern states aimed at African Americans. That was yesterday. Today's VRA is barely recognizable.
Yesterday, protection was needed against poll taxes (barred in federal elections with the ratification of the 24th Amendment), literacy taxes, and things like “white primaries” in Texas. Today protection is needed against voter identification laws, purging of voting rolls, the disenfranchisement of voting rights for formerly incarcerated persons, big money in politics, and redistricting.
Yesterday, Jim Crow was to have retired in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also signed by President Johnson. Today Jim Crow is “James Crow, PhD,” – CEO of the prison industrial complex, instigator of the war on women and card carrying, dues paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), determined to re-define democracy in this country.
Yesterday, 50 years ago on March 7, 1965, courageous women and men were a part of a nonviolent march attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Five months later the Voting Rights Act was signed.
Today, 50 years later I stand here in Dallas with Ambassador Andrew Young, Martin Luther King, III, officers, clergy, laity, and Dr. James Perkins, President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. at its 54th annual conference, the convention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with great clarity and without doubt that the Voting Rights Act of yesterday is still needed in its fullness today!
Yesterday, on November 22, 1963, here in Dallas at the Dealey Plaza, John F. Kennedy was assassinated and then Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as this country’s 36th president. Blood and tears of Kennedy and the nonviolent marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were mingled at the raising of a pen to try to finish what Kennedy started - the righting of a wrong. Today, blood and tears of the Emmanuel Nine were mingled in the lowering of the confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina state capital.
Yesterday, under the Johnson administration, his “Great Society” vision for America, we got Medicare and Medicaid (also 50 this month), a ban on race discrimination in public facilities, the War on Poverty, and the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Today, we still must march for Medicaid expansion, an end to racial profiling and gender and sexual identity discrimination, for comprehensive immigration reform. And 50 years later we still must fight for the protection of our right to vote.
We are here in Texas on this historic day, the same state that immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder on August 22, 2013, passed one of the country’s most oppressive, restrictive voter identification laws (SB14) at the time and was charged with violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
We are here knowing from the yesterdays it is not a matter of “if” someone will test the voting laws of the land. Today it’s just a matter of “when.” Until we get to that place of protection, of security where rights will not, can no longer be denied, “let us march on,” educate, motivate, advocate, register and yes vote “till victory is won.”
Today, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Republican-drawn gerrymandered districts in Florida that dilute the African American vote must be redrawn because they violate the anti-gerrymandering state Constitutional amendments passed by the voters.
People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council applauds the ruling, calling it a major step forward for fair representation in Florida. African American Ministers Leadership Council member Elder Lee Harris of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL issued the following statement in response to the court’s decision:
“In striking down the gerrymandered districts in Florida that Republicans created to favor themselves by purposefully diluting the African American vote, our state Supreme Court affirmed the principal that all people, no matter the color of their skin or their political beliefs, deserve fair representation in our democratic system.
“Fairness in our electoral system has always been central to the Civil Rights movement. We fight hard day in and day out to ensure that our government upholds the rights of African Americans and all people, and today’s ruling brings us one step closer to equal voting rights for our community.”
This piece by People For the American Way Political Coordinator Carlos A. Sanchez originally appeared in Fox News Latino.
Even as a diverse coalition of Americans unite around the principle that voting rights are an essential American principle that needs to be protected, the Republican Party remains firmly committed to doing the opposite. Their continued push for policies that make it more difficult for people to vote disproportionately affects minority and young voters.
Republicans – including leading Presidential candidates – have for years been pushing initiatives that make it harder to vote. Jeb Bush supports states’ efforts to enact voter ID laws, and as governor, he restricted early voting and infamously purged 12,000 eligible voters before the 2000 presidential election. Marco Rubio asked, “What’s the big deal?” with voter ID laws. Scott Walker enacted what has been described as “one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country.”
Voter ID laws systematically target Latinos’ and other minorities’ ability to vote. In 2012, measures to restrict voting could have affected over 10 million Latino voters. A Brennan Center for Justice study reported, “In Colorado, Florida, and Virginia, the number of eligible Latino citizens that could be affected by these barriers exceeds the margin of victory in each of those states during the 2008 presidential election.”
And it’s no accident that these laws disproportionately affect Latinos. A separate study from last year found “a solid link between legislator support for voter ID laws and bias toward Latino voters, as measured in their responses to constituent e-mails.” And yet another study that was released earlier this year found that even in states without voter ID laws, Latinos were targeted: “Election officials themselves also appear to be biased against minority voters, and Latinos in particular. For example, poll workers are more likely to ask minority voters to show identification, including in states without voter identification laws.”
Some Republicans have explicitly made known their intentions of suppressing Latino and African-American voters in order to win elections. Over 30 years ago, ALEC-founder and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation Paul Weyrich spoke plainly: “I don’t want everybody to vote…As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Republican after Republican has continued in his footsteps: An Ohio GOP County Chair stated he supports limits on early voting because, “I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter-turnout machine.” Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai believed voter ID laws would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Former GOP Precinct Chair Don Yelton used the “n” word as he tried to deny that a voter ID law in North Carolina was racist (and he explained that “the law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt”). Conservative activist and notoriously anti-immigrant Phyllis Schlafly said, “The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game.” Schlafly’s Eagle Forum endorsed Marco Rubio in his run for Senate (here’s a lovely picture of the two of them) and applauded Scott Walker for his opposition to legal immigration.
The Republican response to the growing power of minority voters could not be clearer: shut them out of the election process. Under the guise of fighting voter fraud, despite a striking absence of evidence that fraud exists, Republican-led chambers across our nation have moved in concert to restrict access through the polls for political reasons. It’s that simple.
What’s even more upsetting is to hear a group who claims to represent the best interests of a community choose to ignore the facts in favor of their funder’s agenda. Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Iniative, said he’s fine with voter ID laws and that he doesn’t think Republicans are trying to suppress the Latino vote. Libre is a Koch-funded GOP shadow group that time and again turns its back on the Latino community – for example, Libre supported Republican candidates who opposed immigration reform in 2014. Garza’s support for voter ID laws is yet another instance of him and Republicans supporting a policy that’s devastating to Latinos.
It’s time for the Republican Party to end their campaign against voting rights—and for people like Daniel Garza to stop giving them cover when they do it.
Carlos A. Sanchez is the Coordinator of Political Campaigns for People For the American Way.
Last Friday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would allow formerly incarcerated persons to regain the right to vote upon release from prison. The bill had passed through Maryland’s General Assembly with a significant majority. Hogan’s veto sustains current Maryland law, which prohibits people from voting until they have completed their entire sentence – including parole and probation.
This decision impacts approximately 40,000 Marylanders who live, work, and pay taxes in the state. The bill would have both supported formerly incarcerated persons in the reintegration process and addressed the systemic disenfranchisement of ex-offenders. As Maryland Delegates Cory McCray and Alonzo Washington put it:
In representative democracy, the right to vote is a fundamental interest. When folks have their access to the ballot box restricted, they lose their ability to have a voice in the decision making process.
PFAW advocates in Maryland, and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action, have been organizing with supporters to restore full voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons. They called on local community leaders and state representatives to promote this important cause.
Hogan’s decision is deeply disappointing and disproportionately marginalizes people of color, continuing a legacy of racially discriminatory ex-offender laws. It highlights how harmful the power to veto can be in the wrong hands. But the fight for voting rights for all is far from over, and activists in Maryland and across the country will continue to push to ensure that fundamental democratic rights are protected.
In a column for the National Review on Tuesday, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies proposed requiring formerly incarcerated people to pass what is essentially a literacy test in order to regain their right to vote.
Krikorian praised Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent veto of a bill expanding voting rights for ex-felons but added that conservatives should give “more thought” to the issue of reenfranchising formerly incarcerated people, who because of disparities in the criminal justice system are disproportionately African American.
His idea: requiring ex-felons to pass the same citizenship test in order to regain their right to vote that immigrants pass in order to become citizens:
[G]iven that such a large share of, especially, our black fellow citizens is formally disenfranchised because of past criminality, it behooves conservatives for both policy and political reasons to give the issue of re-enfranchisement more thought. One approach that might work as a policy matter in politically reintegrating those released felons who are interested — and also send a message of openness to the penitent — would be to follow the example of naturalization of immigrants.
While the reasons differ, both felons and resident foreigners are excluded from participation in political life. The way foreigners overcome this exclusion is by ceasing to be foreigners through acquisition of U.S. citizenship. They do this by passing a basic test (probably a little too basic) on U.S. history and civics and by demonstrating (in most cases) a basic ability to read, write, and understand English. Once they swear the Oath of Allegiance, they are enfranchised as citizens of the United States.
This process, he writes, would allow ex-felons “moral readmission to the political community” and show potential employers that those who have passed “might be a cut above the average ex-con”:
Following this model for released felons would have a number of benefits. It would send the message that re-enfranchisement is not merely a matter of paperwork but of a moral readmission to the political community. It would teach some elementary civics and history that the ex-cons probably never learned in school. And if accompanied by a certificate of some kind, it could signal to potential employers that the bearer might be a cut above the average ex-con.
But liberals won’t like his idea of reinstating literacy tests, Krikorian says, because “they don’t particularly like America” so they don’t want anybody learning civics:
The lefty groups pushing to accelerate and simplify re-enfranchisement won’t like this for at least two reasons: Their goal is electing more Democrats, pure and simple, and anything that might stand in the way is unacceptable. And more fundamentally, they don’t particularly like America, and requiring a victim of The Man to pass a history test not written by Howard Zinn is repellent.
On May 5, “Selma” – the award-winning film chronicling the voting rights movement and its violent opposition – will be released on DVD. And while this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery that culminated in the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the fight to ensure that all Americans have equal access to the voting booth continues today. Voter suppression still threatens many Americans’ ability to cast a ballot, and we are still in dire need of a fix for the Supreme Court’s gutting of the VRA in the 2013 Shelby County decision.
“Selma” is an important film for all progressives, and its release presents a great organizing and activism opportunity for voting rights activists. The film’s creators have put together this guide for hosting a “Selma Salon” – a watch party that brings friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues together to talk about and mobilize around civil rights. If you’re interested in hosting your own Selma Salon, check out the guide for tips and discussion ideas.
If you are a teacher (or have a teacher in your life), the Selma4Students campaign is giving every high school in the U.S. a free copy of “Selma” on DVD, along with a companion study guide to help use the film as an educational tool. Learn more at Selma4Students.com.
Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt joined VCY America’s “Crosstalk” program on Tuesday to discuss the then upcoming vote on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the U.S. attorney general, telling host Jim Schneider that President Obama nominated Lynch — who was confirmed by the Senate this afternoon — because she was “willing to be as ruthless as he.”
“I’ll give President Obama one thing,” Pratt said. “In all the appointments he’s made that I’m aware of, unlike Republican presidents who have appointed people because they played golf with them, or because somebody said something nice about them among the elite, President Obama has only appointed, to my knowledge, people who are willing to be as ruthless as is he. That explains Eric Holder. That explains Loretta Lynch, who is an Obama appointee as U.S. attorney in New York.”
When Schneider noted with scorn that “Lynch views voter ID laws as being racist,” Pratt said that opposition to such voting restrictions is part of Obama’s “ruthless” attempt to steal elections for Democrats, which will eventually lead to the Republican Party dying out.
“If they have to deal with photo voter ID, they lose, because it makes it much more difficult to steal elections,” he said. “And in all too many cases, the Democrats have been able to win only because of election fraud. And that’s why they are so bitterly resisting photo voter ID. That is a very, very key issue. And when I hear Republicans saying that ‘well, you know, it’s kind of embarrassing for us to be continually opposing that,’ I guess they’re suggesting it makes us look racist, what they’re saying is, they’re okay with the demise of the Republican Party in about 10 years.”
Today the Maryland legislature passed a bill that would allow people to regain the right to vote as soon as they are released from prison. The legislation rights a wrong in current Maryland law, which denies people voting rights until their entire sentence has been completed, including probation and parole. Without this bill, thousands of formerly incarcerated Marylanders — many of whom are people of color — will continue to be needlessly forced to stay home on Election Day.
PFAW activists in Maryland and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action have been working with allies to help change this, calling their state representatives and urging them to support the immediate restoration of voting rights.
Disenfranchising those who have served their time in prison hampers the process of reintegration and shamefully blocks thousands of Americans from participating in elections. It worsens the discrimination already faced by formerly incarcerated people — who pay taxes, work, and contribute to their communities — and it weakens our democracy.
Passage of this bill is a big step forward in the movement for voting rights for all. Now it’s up to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to sign it and help make the state’s democratic process as fair and accessible as possible.
The following is a guest post by Zachary Koop, a 2014 Young People For Fellow.
This past Monday, the US Supreme Court made a troubling decision: it rejected an appeal to overturn Wisconsin’s voter ID law, considered one of the strictest in the nation. In so doing, the justices paved the way for other states to prohibit eligible voters from casting ballots.
As a young, progressive Wisconsin student, my peers and I share the sentiment that our voices are being attacked by Wisconsin’s recent voter ID law. Indeed, this policy disproportionately impacts young voters, especially youth of color. Among voters between the ages of 18-29, 17.3 percent of black youth and 8.1 percent of Latino youth were unable to vote because of inadequate identification, compared to 4.7 percent of white youth.
Governor Walker claims that subjugation of Wisconsinites is not the intent, but it is unquestionably the impact. This policy threatened to prevent 300,000 Wisconsinites from voting. Inclusion should be an American ideal, but that is clearly not the case today.
This attack on the voting rights is just one example of how the Right is further disenfranchising historically marginalized communities across this country. But despite their intent, these moves are also mobilizing millennials to demand that our democracy include us. While complex legal and legislative processes often make us feel frustrated and powerless, we understand we need to claim our place at the voting booth. As the largest, most diverse and most progressive demographic in history, we have the power to alter the policy and political landscapes in substantial ways – and we’re already doing it.
Millennials are advancing change across the country. I found my own place in the progressive movement thanks to programs like People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) Fellowship. Through YP4’s Vote and Courts Matter programs, I learned how to organize my peers, mobilize voters, and came to understand just how important the courts are to advancing (or dismantling) progressive policies.
Because of YP4’s support, this past fall at UW-La Crosse I passed policies through my campus’ student government that enfranchised students during the 2014 midterm elections. By requiring the administration to issue free student IDs compliant with the voter ID law to all students who requested one, running voter registration drives, and more, we helped ensure that 10,000 students could cast ballots during the election cycle. We are now creating a campus voter registration system that is easily accessible to all students and plan to share our tactics with surrounding state universities to make voting more inclusive and widespread amongst students.
Nothing is more voice-squelching than voter ID laws, an economically inefficient policy that marginalizes youth and other minorities. The Supreme Court’s decision is a call to action for Wisconsin millennials to realize that justice does not advocate for itself and that we must incorporate courts activism in our fight for civil rights.
While speaking last week in Ohio, President Obama was asked his thoughts on how to control the amount of money in politics and spending on campaigns, to which he responded by noting, among other things, that some nations have mandatory voting.
"If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country," Obama said, and that has predictably alarmed conservative activists who notoriously do not want everyone to vote, such as Robert Knight of the American Civil Rights Union and Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association.
Discussing Obama's statement on the "Today's Issues" radio program this morning, Knight and Wildmon both stated that most people who don't vote are uninformed and ignorant and so "we don't want those people voting" in the first place.
Knight went on to claim that Obama is seeking to "flood the nation with illegal immigrants, get them hooked on welfare and then have them vote for Democrats," which Wildmon said was part of a plan to bring about "the death of the Republican Party as we know it":